In Early TV Appearance, Rush Already Knew Who He Was

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MARK: Here is something that I don’t think most of you will have heard before. It goes right back to the very earliest days when Rush had found his way to New York City, and I believe — I’ve looked into this, and I can’t find anything earlier — but I believe this is actually Rush’s first television appearance. It’s on public access cable in Connecticut, for whatever that is worth, and Rush is taking calls, and as you know when you’re not doing your own show and you sometimes are on some of these other shows, they don’t have as many callers or would-be callers as Rush does. They’ve got the same, you know, three or four people who call in to Connecticut public access cable every day.

And so we chopped the first guy off, the caller off, because he was just trying to say that Rush made him mad, and he had that all his life going back to Walter Winchell. I guess if you’re among Rush’s older listeners you’ll remember Walter Winchell. He used to begin every broadcast by saying, I think, “Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea.” And he was a huge guy. He’s mentioned in a zillion popular songs. He’s referenced in Shuffle off to Buffalo and everything else. And Walter Winchell did make a lot of people mad.

And Rush here is trying to explain politely to the guy just how it is he does his show. And what is interesting to me about this is that if you asked him a third of a century later, I think he would have given pretty much the same reply. And his interesting comparisons here as a former disc jockey between the platters he used to spin when he was playing all the top 40 hits and the difference when you’re doing talk radio instead of top 40 hits you have callers. I think this is right at the beginning of his career. You can glimpse from this how well Rush understood his form.

BEGIN ARCHIVE CLIP

RUSH: Can I be honest with you about something?

HOST: Yeah, sure.

RUSH: You’re going all the way back to Walter Winchell.

HOST: Right.

RUSH: We have people who are on the radio and TV, as we all know — we could go down the list of people — who are there for one reason only, and that’s to make you mad. And the formula for making you, the viewer, the listener, mad hasn’t changed a bit, yet people keep falling for it.

HOST: Uh-huh.

RUSH: It amazes me. Well, you know, a lot of people, anytime I have found, any time you express an opinion, half the people that hear it are gonna disagree with you by a law of average. If you embellish the opinion with confidence and cockiness, then you’re getting into generating hatred and so forth. ‘Cause a lot of people would love to be confident about what they think. Most people aren’t. Most people are trepid about their opinions. And if they are subjected to someone such as myself who’s not, it tends to offend them. But the key is knowing that nobody can get everybody to like them, keeping in mind that the law of averages indicates that half the people who listen to you are not gonna like you, still gonna find a way to make those who don’t like you enjoy listening to your program. And that is really the key to the entertainment value that the program contains.

I believe people turn on radio to be entertained, to be entertained, to be entertained. And no matter what they’re turning it on for, what kind of programming, it has to entertain them. Callers are like records on a music station. You play the top 10. You don’t take bad calls. You don’t just sit there and open the lines and say, “Okay, what do you want to talk about?” When you invest in callers your whole hope or your whole chance for success, you’re gonna fail. You have to lead them. You can’t get along without them. And I don’t disparage them, but you can’t let them control the show and that’s another thing different about WABC. For the longest time I guess the people who have worked there, and some of them who still do, simply open the phones and deal with what they get and so people are used to call WABC and making speeches about whatever else.

I want people calling because they’re reacting to what is happening on my program, not what happened yesterday on somebody else’s, not what happened on the guy before me. If I’m not stirring them up — and that doesn’t mean being negative and pounding them — if I’m not making them compelled to call then I’m not doing my job is the way I look at it. I set myself up as the expert. I want to be the reason people listen to my program, the way I react to the guests, the way things happen on my program, the things I might say, the things I might do. I never have guests. I never do interviews. And a lot of what I do on radio requires people’s imagination to be fruitful. I discovered a technique. You start out by saying, “Tell me a little bit about yourself.” So you let the guests start off and run. Now, if the guest jogs or crawls, then it’s tough. And you have a good guest like me, one who realizes the entertainment value that needs to be on a show like this, I’ll be glad to kick it off and start it.

Well, no, there are bad callers, but in the final analysis, there aren’t. There are only bad callers if you’re not doing your job, if I’m not doing mine. And all I’m trying to do is grab people’s attention for what I say. And I know that they’re gonna be so mad hearing the song that it’s gonna take a while before they begin to understand — but that’s okay. I’m prepared for it to take a long time. The bottom line is for them to get the message. And —

HOST: And be entertained.

RUSH: Absolutely. And the whole thing here is a lot of people say, “Do you really believe the stuff you say?” That’s for you to figure out.

END ARCHIVE CLIP

MARK: Did you hear the way Rush (laughing) said, “Do you believe the stuff you say?” That’s Rush back in the 1980s, half a lifetime ago, and he’s the same Rush you heard on this station just 2-1/2 weeks ago. He knew who he was. It had taken him a long time. He’d been kind of circling around, going from this to that for 20 years, before a man of undoubted gifts finally found the format that showed off those brilliant, superb, unique gifts.

But I love listening to him explain his theories on it. He learned a lot. He as just playing whatever it is, the Partridge Family on the radio — Moonlight Feels Right, whatever it was back then — but he’s learning. He’s learning, he’s learning, he’s learning, and he knows exactly why his show is working even as he starts it. I want to say one thing, by the way. I mentioned the first time you listened to Rush, you think, “Wow. I wonder if this guy’s got an affiliate near my house.”

One of the very first affiliates of Rush was a station — a small station in New London — New Hampshire. I think it was one of actually the sort of charter members of what’s now a 600-station family. It’s WNTK, and when I started guest hosting before they built Ice Station EIB for me in an old county jailhouse (laughing), just in case they bring back the Fairness Doctrine and we all have to be jailed for doing this kind of show.

But I used to go down to WNTK, a very small station, and we used to have to ask the Jazzercise class in the basement to hold it down because otherwise it made the microphone jump around, and the owner of the station would bring in the owner of Bud’s Chevrolet and his other big advertisers to come and (laughing) stand in the studio with me to listen to the show.

That owner of WNTK in New London back around 1991, over 30 years ago, was sent a life-size Rush by EIB. He was sent a life-size cardboard cutout of Rush in 1991. So Rush, you know, 40 years old, whatever. And he has driven around with that life-size cardboard cutout in the back seat of his car ever since for lo these 30 years. And if you ever are in the upper Connecticut River Valley — whether you’re on the New Hampshire side of the river or the Vermont side of the river — and you see some guy driving around with what appears to be a young Rush Limbaugh sitting in the back seat, that is the owner of WNTK at that time, a guy called Bob Vinikoor.

And that’s the impact that Rush had on people. There was nothing like Rush, and people who loved him always wanted to show the degree to which they love him, to the point where some of them… I don’t know how many cars he swapped out since he first started driving around with that life-size Rush cutout in the back seat terrifying — terrifying — New England liberals, terrifying Dartmouth College professors, terrifying staffers at Ben & Jerry’s Vermont ice cream.

That’s how much people loved Rush.

Nothing like it anywhere in the world.

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